Thursday, June 30, 2011

insights into cultural expectations of schools

Joanne Jacob's blogged yesterday about how high school students in New York City view their teachers and the teaching profession.She quotes Hilary Lustick's description of one student who would make a promising teacher:

"Because she doesn’t see strong teacher role models like herself, Alissa dismisses the entire profession as one unworthy of respect, one undeserving of her intelligence and effort."


The blog post as well as that quote itself gives me insight into the parents I worked with last year (see previous post) and their views on our school. It's a lot to think about- how does that perspective on teachers and the profession impact how these students will interact with schools when they are parents?  How will they view efforts of teachers and school officials who truly want to improve the schools?

I think it is the background behind what I was addressing yesterday- the cultural divide between what is encouraged and promoted in suburban schools vs urban schools.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

technology, culture and creativity

At ISTE (for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about ISTE is the International Socieity for Technology in Education who just held a conference in Philly), my awesome think-tank co-workers Clairvoy, Jenny, and I gave a presentation on our school's on-line student newspaper. The paper was Clairvoy's brainchild and Jenny and I were along to represent the work the rest of the school has done in getting students involved and published on the site.

Throughout the presentation countless parents told me "I wish my child's school was doing this", or "I hope when my children are in elementary school they'll have this sort of instruction instead of worksheets". Me too, I agreed, rubbing my growing stomach. Will my daughter end up at a think-tank school with innovation and student-focused learning, or a school falling back into the traditional worksheet model because it's safer and easier for teachers, administrators, and policy makers?

The newspaper was something Clairvoy started this year and it's been exciting to watch it grow as students and teachers turn it into exactly what they want it to be. Numerous people at the poster sessions walked away wide-eyed telling us, "Wow, this is really the forefront of education."  It was nice to hear, but at the think-tank it's almost old hat. We forget how lucky we are to work with so many other motivated teachers.

As I chatted with attendees about the benefits of our online paper I found myself thinking about some of the parents I worked with this year. They were parents who wanted their children to have the best, yet their perception of the best and ours was widely different. They themselves had attended urban elementary schools and had parents who fought for them at every step of the way in order to help them be successful. One even mentioned to me that in her eyes that is what good parents do- fight the teachers in order to get the best for their child. These parents seemed to bring an innate lack of trust of school officials and teachers because of their background. Most likely if you'd grown up in those schools you wouldn't trust school officials either.

Yet these parents wanted an old school approach for their children. They would prefer to see worksheets and round robin reading as opposed to age-appropriate learning centers and research-based guided reading. They were unfamiliar with our methods and no amount of explaining current research in education would calm them.  What they experienced in schools was worksheets and what they wanted for their children were worksheets. Each of these parents had worked hard to be where they are today- they had faced adversity and had overcome. It makes sense then that what they want for their children is the same thing- and since they were successful with their experience they want their children to be successful by following the same path.

To them the on-line newspaper was nothing impressive, nor was any of the other technology we used in the classroom. Promoting creativity was not something they wanted to hear about during parent-teacher conferences. They wanted rote memorization in order to know whether or not their children were learning the material at hand. These parents certainly made me reflect on what we each want to get out of the education of our students- much of our expectations are built from our past experiences and reference points.

As I chatted with Angela Watson in the bloggers cafe on Tuesday she noted that little was mentioned about using technology in urban schools at ISTE. True, I started to realize, many of the schools engaged in the most creative uses of technology were not from highly urban areas. There were exceptions, the think-tank included, but urban schools and the culture and environment they bring with them were not a focus.

Many urban schools do not have the resources for some of the technology available, and if they have purchased the technology they do not have the staff to support the teachers in learning to maximize the use of the technology. These schools come with their own sort of issues and technology demands. Do the children have access to the technology at home? How do they interact with technology outside of school?  Do their parents use technology to communicate with school?

These are certainly questions that need to be discussed, yet the more I thought about it the more I realized that the culture of urban schools inspires a different use of technology as well. Friends who teach in inner-city DC tell me that they are frequently faced with parents who bring similar concerns as my parents this year. They don't want to hear about their child expressing themselves or writing a book for fun, they want to know how their child is performing based on assessments that measure rote memorization. There is technology out there that facilitates rote memorization and skill and drill learning. And that's not a bad thing- sometimes it is exactly what students need. But it is certainly not the only thing it can be used for.

 Is there a culture that does not expect or promote creativity in urban schools? With our current education policies are we promoting that culture even further, pushing our most at-risk schools to put aside teaching problem solving and creativity in order to learn rote facts? Why are our middle and upper-class schools able to participate in creativity within their lessons but our inner city children are not?

How do we bridge the gap between teaching the problem solving, free thinking, and creativity children need to succeed in life in our urban schools while still meeting the cultural expectations of old-school teaching methods?

ISTE impressions- facilitating problem solving in the classroom

I'm back from ISTE and still have so much swimming in my brain. By far my favorite part of the conference was meeting so many great educators. I loved listening to their passion, ideas, and enthusiasm that radiated from them even though everyone is still a bit weary from end-of-year exhaustion. I got to put faces to some ed bloggers I'd been following for awhile and added lots of ed blogs to my Google reader that I'm excited to dive into. I have all sorts of ideas of ways to play once back in the classroom in August, or when I return from maternity leave.

My favorite session above all was Peter Reynolds, the author of Ish and The Dot. Like the message in his books he talked about how important it is for us to teach our children to embrace their mistakes and to give permission to them to not be perfect. This was a topic that frequently came up at EduCon as well. So often we are focused on perfection with our students- perhaps because we're focused on perfection with ourselves as well (2014 isn't far away...  anyone at a title 1 school making that 100% pass rate yet? No?  Keep pushing...)  Rarely do we teach our children how to embrace failure, how to move on when something is not perfect, or how to try even when unsure. In special education this might actually be taught more than most- so many of our struggling friends are unable to move on when they are stuck on a task- if we are going to get anywhere with them we have to teach them how to fail.

Teaching problem solving is essential to learning. The more our children learn to problem solve on their own the more they drive their own learning. Without failure there are less problems to solve and one never learns how to try hard at something, fail, assess the situation, build steps to fix it, sequence those steps, and then begin to build onward toward success. These are life skills that are difficult to be successful without. Of course, success in life often looks different than success in school.

Walking through the vendor hall at ISTE one is practically beaten over the head with all the tools and devices out there to embed technology into the classroom. All of these seem amazing, top-of-the-field and impressive until you start to ask, what will my children learn from these practices? Why are these better than my current practices?  Other than impressing others and being able to talk the ed- tech-talk, what is the benefit? Down in the poster session hallway there is another story. Many of the poster sessions focused on ways real teachers use technology in their classrooms and they are readily able to discuss their success, failures, and learning curve with their projects. From booth to booth I kept noticing a similar pattern- technology was being used to problem solve. No one was using it to teach children rote memorization or to become better test takers. Instead technology was being used to push children beyond their traditional roles in the classroom. Students were taking ownership of their learning, trying new things, interacting with the curriculum in a personalized way, and problem solving in order to be successful. And most importantly, while most was teacher facilitated, it was predominately student-led work. Once the students were engaged the teachers stepped back and allowed the students to drive their own projects.

Research has shown us that children who are the most successful are the ones who are able to create a mental image in their mind of what they would like to create and then set out to be able to achieve that image, despite any failures or difficulties they run into along the way. Teachers can facilitate the creation, but children must be able to create their own images and their own plans of getting to the end goal. It's what we all do to be successful in life- whether it is knowing we want a masters degree, to lose five pounds, create a new video game, write a novel, or start a company- it is the process that makes us successful. It's the "secret" behind that book Oprah was pushing a few years ago (No, I didn't read it, but that's my impression)- make a vision of what you want and work to get it. We can have students who are able to spout off facts, read for understanding, and fill in the blanks well, but without knowing how to set a goal and achieve it they are lost in the real world.

We certainly do not need technology to help us teach this in the classrooms, but after visiting the poster sessions it is clear that it is one way to help give children this opportunity.

It was perfect that my first session at ISTE was Peter Reynold's talk- he reminded us to focus on facilitating creativity in the classroom, give children permission to not be perfect, and most importantly, to let every child know they matter and that they exist. Perfect lessons to carry with us throughout the conference- it's not about the newest and greatest technology in the classroom, it's about the individual children who come to us each year. How will we reach them? What ways will we let them know they are important? How will we give them the tools to succeed?

After his talk I was ready rejuvenated and inspired enough to dive into next school year. Luckily I have more than a month to make my ideas and plans concrete.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Headed to ISTE!

I'm off to ISTE!  It's the first time I've gotten a chance to attend and I'm thrilled to be a part of the conference. Who else is coming?  Look for me- I'll be the one waddling. :)

kindergarten book club

Toward the end of May we realized we'd covered pretty much all of the content in two of the kindergarten classrooms I work in. We had about a month left of reading mini-lessons to fill, and realized this was the perfect time to simply dive into enjoying good, meaningful read alouds. The literacy coach came up with a fabulous forum for these. The children sat in a circle to listen to the book to take the focus off the teacher but make it seem more like a book-club setting. She'd read a few pages, stop and ask questions, and allow the children to talk to their talking partner about the answer. When she called them back and asked them to share out she had them call on one another.
When Johnny finished giving his opinion she'd prompt him to ask the next friend "Sally, what did YOU think?" again taking the focus off the teacher and putting it onto the students themselves.

It was amazing. We started this in Splattypus's class and I carried it over to my partner-in-crime's classroom. The kids loved it. Since partner-in-crime and I took turns leading the discussions we each got a chance to sit back and listen to the discussions happening during the 'turn-and-talk' time. It was beautiful. Even the shyest students who never seem to want to participate- to the point you wonder if they are paying attention- animatedly talked with their talking partner about their thoughts. Lots of excited predictions would be made, lots of connections, lots of speculation on how characters must feel. Many of them shared far more with their talking-partner than they ever would have shared whole group.

I loved listening to them ask one another "Sally, what did you think?" or, "Sally, what did your partner think?" (The ultimate kindergarten question...  sure you know what you want to share, but did you really listen to your partner, can you tell us what your partner said?)  They truly took on the discussion format and rose to the experience of being equal members in a book club. Sure there were some who had trouble with it. Pixie, for instance, was always able to answer the question "What did your partner think" yet as she spoke her partner's face would twist into confusion and then disagreement. Every time she made up what her partner had said, yet included such details that it sounded real. Sometimes kids would argue, "But I don't think I said that..."  seemingly wondering if in the span of 2 minutes they'd forgotten the very articulate answer Pixie was contributing to them.

In my class with my partner-in-crime it came to be that whenever I got up front to teach a lesson the kids would whisper, "oh good, book club!"  I hated to disappoint them sometimes to remind them that it was math workshop, or morning meeting.  But I loved how much they clearly enjoyed the experience. I think it showed all of us that kindergarten book clubs are something we can start much earlier in the school year.

Friday, June 24, 2011

the beautiful beginnings of summer

It's finally here. It's 11:30 on a Friday morning and I just managed to start a productive day after a long morning of lounging around reading a book for fun. Pure bliss.

The last day went smoothly. We had one girl in tears who ended up getting one of our most boyish boys in tears as well. Other than that everyone was focused on their afternoon pool dates. There was one last game of duck, duck, goose, letters written to next year's kinders, one last morning meeting.

At the end of the day we gave the children a laminated poster we'd made of their kindergarten year. On one side was a picture of the whole class- taken on the day Magical had come to visit. He's sitting in the front and center, king of the class, grinning happily with his hair beginning to grow back in. At the moment the camera clicked Pixie leaped in front of the group like a jack-in-the-box, her arms flung out as if to say "Ta da! We're the best class ever!" Despite the fact at the time we gave her a lecture on ruining the picture her sudden antics made it a classic kindergarten picture and it truly captures the nature of the class.

Under the class picture is a picture of each child with the teachers and on the back is a self-portrait the students did in the beginning of the year and one they did at the end of the year. These are my favorite. One glance at the two pictures captures the year's growth. Pixie's beginning of the year self-portrait is a mix of colors and circles in toddler-style drawing. No discernible hands, body, feet, or legs. Her end of year portrait is clearly a kindergarten drawing of her happy self- all the right body parts are there. The two portraits side by side almost take your breath away with her growth this year. It reminds us of who she was when she came in- she didn't know her colors, her numbers, or the letters, and the closest she got to writing her name was two lines that almost crossed into the correct letter if you squinted your eyes and held the paper at an angle. Now she only confuses 8 and 10, knows quite a few letters, and can certainly write her name. She's a rock star.

The other's pictures are not quite so dramatic, but do indicate a level of developmental growth in their fine motor skills, as well as what they now find important. Many of the boys depicted themselves with hulk-like arm muscles, insinuating that in kindergarten they went from little weaklings to champion weightlifters. In some ways they did- just more mentally than physically.
It was fun to watch their faces as we pointed out the differences in their portraits. "Look at how much you grew!" we'd say and they'd try to hide little smiles, desperately wanting to simply nod solemnly like the first graders they were becoming but bursting with kindergarten pride.

And then the day was over- a rush to the bus, to the cars, to moms and dads waiting to walk home. Tears, hugs, and lots of smiles of a successful year.

I love my job.

Monday, June 20, 2011

finding the end

It's hard to believe that we only have one more day of school and then this year is over. Between focusing on getting ready for my new role next year, trying to wrap my head around being gone for maternity leave, and just finishing up paper work from this year I haven't actually sat down to process that this year is over. My year of Pixie, PJ, and Magical has ran its course. I have to say goodbye.

It's almost hard to remember that this fall was a part of this year. As much as we loved PJ our school wasn't the best place for him, and it was a long 9 weeks of keeping him safe. We lived on such a different schedule then- everyday we came in on edge ready to react to anything that could come while trying to be as proactive as we could. Then he left and our classroom suddenly felt empty. We still see him in the hallways because he comes to our school for after-school care, and we love getting hugs from him and seeing his bright smile. He's doing really well at his new school.

A few weeks after PJ left we found out Magical was sick. I remember slowly crumpling onto the floor as I talked to his mother on the phone when she first gave us the news- I just could not understand how such a little person could be so, so sick. We walked around in a daze for the next few days feeling powerless and small. In our classroom we get to be the queens, but outside in the world it is scary to realize how little control we had. Lots of hospital visits calmed us down and let us know that Magical was going to be OK, although he had a long road ahead of him. In February, once he was home from the hospital we became his home-bound teachers and Mrs. Partner-in-Crime and I took turns going to his house everyday after school to read, write, draw pictures, and cram whatever part of the kindergarten curriculum we could into the hour he had the stamina for. Magical's doing well now and we're excited for him to join us again in the Fall.

Pixie of course remained a steady part of the year- everyday with her made us laugh. Even today, when she arrived in a candy-corn style salsa dress and desperately tried to jump in the rain puddles during the fire drill we couldn't help but absolutely love her. At one point we tried to retain her, but eventually realized that she would be fine in first grade, we really just wanted to keep her for ourselves.

The other children have been amazing and memorable as well. My kindergarten boyfriend who flirted with me until he found out I was pregnant and he ditched me to flirt with the unborn baby. My amazing morning group that became a tight friendship circle and brought out the best in one another. My readers who begged me for new books anytime they saw me, even if it was on the playground.  It's been such an incredible year.

Tomorrow I'll say goodbye to my kinders but also to the graduating 5th graders as well.  The last class of first graders I taught as a classroom teacher are moving on. It's hard to believe that after next year there will not be any students at our school that remember me as their main teacher. Watching them become fifth graders has been empowering as well.  They were actually my class when I first started this blog back in May 2007. They were an amazing class- there was never a dull moment. That was the year I was "poisoned" by hand sanitizer by a student, had a student bring in a raw egg and break it on the table during math workshop, I got married, a child threw chairs at me numerous times, and of course when I fell in love with my smart cookie. Ironically looking back at my blog posts from then apparently when I was engaged they all assumed I was also pregnant, so to throw a little mental math at them I told them I would be pregnant when I was 30 and asked them how many years they would have to wait before I had a baby. Apparently I kept to that promise.  I just can't believe it has been 4 years since they left my classroom as small, budding readers. Now they walk confidently around our school was rock-star fifth graders.

Don't get me wrong- I'm ready for summer. I'm ready for relaxing by the pool and sleeping in (it may be my last chance to sleep in for a long, long time) but I'm going to miss this year. I had great kids, great co-workers,  and a supportive administration. What more could a girl ask for?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How did it get in there anyway?

Now that I am at the stage in my pregnancy that I can stop conversation when I walk into a room ("wow, you are, like, really, really pregnant" is a phrase I hear frequently) I am peppered daily with questions from the kids about the growing baby.

Some are sweet and come with kisses on my tummy or "I'll miss you baby" on Friday afternoons when they are leaving for the weekend. Others are not so sweet.

Here are some from today:
How did that baby get in you?
How did you get a baby?
Why did you get a baby?
Are you fat or having a baby?
Will you please stop eating, your stomach is getting too big!
Your tummy keeps getting bigger!
How will the baby get out? From your mouth or from your bottom?

I've taken to answering most of these questions with the same answer, "the baby will come in September." I am being a terrible language model for my friends who all have IEP goals to answer questions on topic, but I figure I spend all day asking questions and getting slightly off topic answers, I might as well try the strategy for myself. So far it has worked... Which may be worrisome when we consider their conversation skills, but I won't question my luck.

Golden Boy & the 3 immigrants...

One of my classes put on plays for the end of the year. They were adorable fabulous plays including Goldilocks, Golden Boy (no one minds a male Goldilocks, do they?), Caps for Sale, and Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Goldilocks was in English but Golden Boy was intended to be in Spanish. The four Spanish-speaking actors did an amazing job with their lines during practice but when it came time to do the show this morning Golden Boy froze. An understudy was quickly designated to take his place, however the understudy missed the memo to speak in Spanish. He did an excellent job with his lines and was a very aggressive Golden Boy- stomping around the 3 Bears house helping himself to their porridge, chairs, and bed.
The Bear family returned and in Spanish expressed horror and remorse that their house had been broken into. Then suddenly they discovered an English speaking "Golden Boy" in their bed.

The bi-lingual play was great, although I couldn't help but feel there was something disturbing about the immigrant family so nicely going for an evening stroll while they wait for their supper to cool down when suddenly their house is broken into by a male who doesn't even speak their language, is known as Golden Boy, and feels he was the right to help himself to everything in the house. They returned to the house to find it ransacked with the culprit still inside, but didn't even call the police. I don't think we were sending the message we wanted to send, but none of the parents seemed concerned so I think we're OK.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

why we teach

Every year before fifth grade graduation I get together old pictures of my former first graders who are now getting ready to graduate from fifth grade. There is something both amusing and humbling about bringing a too-cool-for-school fifth grade boy a stack of pictures from when he was in first grade. Remember when I worried over his reading progress and his inability to sit on the carpet for more than five minutes?  Now he's a star reader and an excellent citizen.  I want to whisper to them all, I remember when you couldn't read, couldn't tie your shoe, and had no problem picking your nose in public. Good job with the growing up thing!  Of course, I write them each a letter and I try to make it a bit more elequent than that. I want them to know that I'm proud of them, and that they are important enough that teachers still think of them years later. They should know that they are loved and worthy of others paying attention to them in a way that encourages them to live up to that worthiness.

 I grew up in a small town and my mother was always coming back from the grocery store to inform me that she'd run into some former teacher I'd had who'd asked about me. In her next breath she'd tell me about the gossip she'd learned about one of my former peers who was finally out of rehab. It was a helpful message- people care about you enough to still think about you, but by the way, good thing you're making them proud because it would be a shame for the whole town to realize you've turned to drugs...
My kids don't live in a small town so I sometimes feel like we have to recreate that community in our school.

This year when I dropped off my letters and pictures in one class I mentioned to the teacher and the student that I remembered the student's first day of school when he didn't speak any English. The teacher smiled and said, "You know he wrote a story about that." I said I would love to see it while inwardly panicking. Please don't let me have had some terrible teacher moment that day that so traumatized the boy he needed to write about it years later...

It was nothing of the sort.  I had to try not to tear up while I read his amazingly well-written piece about his experience starting at a new school where he didn't speak the language. With a tone and author's voice beyond most fifth graders he takes the reader into his nervous thoughts that first morning when he was wondering how he would survive. In a mixture of English and well-placed Spanish words he describes his thoughts throughout the rest of the day, his fear at each new subject and his relief when he made it through each one before he began to panic about the next step. He writes about being saved by a basket of Spanish libros he could read, the relief of being able to write in Spanish, and how he appreciated having a peer translator in math to help him explain his thinking when he knew the right answer.

I'd love to print the story here for you but it's not my story to tell. It's so well crafted that I hope he'll submit it to some journals that publish student work. If he wants it on-line he'll share it himself. You'll have to take my word for it on how he perfectly describes the experience of an ESOL student's first day.

I made a copy of the story for myself. I want to be able to re-read it when I'm thinking of how to integrate students into the classroom, how to make the room welcoming, and more importantly, how small moments in a day can stay with a child forever. How little things we do, things we don't even think about because we're so busy trying to stay on top of paperwork and meetings, are truly significant to each child. So significant that the child will remember them years later. Our small actions, good or bad, can stay with our students forever. In kindergarten and first grade it's easy to think that they are so little that they'll recover from a bad day in school, or that they'll be flexible and simply jump into the routines easily. Realizing that five years later they will no longer be small children but fifth grade authors who are capable of looking back and articulating their experiences clearly is important. We're not just teaching children, we're teaching future adults who just happen to be children right now.*

To be honest I do not have much memory from his first day. I'm sure I was told about 20 minutes before the school day started that I was getting a new student, and it probably was not until I met him that I learned he did not speak English. This is common at our school and we usually expect that new students transferring in will be English-language learners. My class that year was an interesting bunch that kept me on my toes and I'm thankful that something went well enough that day that this little boy felt like he could survive the year. I'm more thankful and in awe that 5 years later he shared his story with me, a story that will stay with me forever, reminding me of the future adult inside each five year old while giving me insight into what it is like to start school when you do not speak the language.




*This is what my husband keeps reminding me of when I think of baby names. Whenever I propose something fabulous like Bunny he simply replies that we're not naming a baby, we're naming an adult who will happen to use the name as a baby. Then he makes me say the name like I'm answering the phone as president of a company. "Hello, Bunny Lipstick speaking" doesn't instill much confidence...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

shameless

The school year has come to the point where while we are all still teaching our lovely hearts out we are also very focused on everything we need to do in the next week before we can start summer break. My to-do list is filled with end of year paperwork. Most of my co-teachers to-do lists are filled with packing. Packing up the books, crayon holders, math supplies, computers, reading book, files, games, posters, calendar, etc. Anything that we've used to do our job in the past year must be put into a box for storage over the summer. Is there any other profession that is required to pack up every pen, pencil, and important job-related tool every 9 months only to unpack it again a month or two later?
We're at the point in the year when we all want boxes. We don't just want boxes- we NEED boxes. Boxes are what can keep us from starting summer break when we want to. We can't leave until we're packed and we can't pack until we have...  boxes.  It's every man for himself at this point- sharing a box with a neighbor just puts you an hour off of leaving. Or a day later if you don't get a box to pack in until after the kids leave. It's not a pretty scene.
As we were walking the kids to lunch I noticed a man grunting over the water fountain as he tried to fix it. He was clearly frustrated and hard at work, but beside him as a large, beautiful box. Inside it was another water fountain, but that could be taken out, couldn't it? How important is it to him to have a box to carry his water fountain back to his truck?  I mean, he could probably carry it all by himself if he just gave me the box.
He didn't see it that way.
The kids stared at me oddly, wondering why my voice had gone so pleading and desperate when only moments before I'd been in full teacher-mode.
I am still boxless.  Boxless and apparently shameless. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Is a masters worth it?

I've read a lot in the education policy blogs out there about how teachers shouldn't be given pay raises just because they have a masters because data shows that teachers with masters degrees aren't any more effective than teachers without masters degrees. I suppose I understand the beginning of that argument- why should ineffective teachers with masters degrees get paid more than effective teachers without the degree?  What we're being paid for is what happens in the classroom with the kids.
The thing is, every time I hear that argument I cringe. My masters degree made me a much more effective teacher. I learned important background on child development, how children learn, and how to intervene when some children do not learn. I gained a new perspective, learned strategies I could immediately apply in the classroom, and understood the difference between a teaching strategy that looks like it should work and one that is actually research based and does work. My masters degree turned me into the data-obsessed freak I am today. (I try to hide this most of the time, but I have to admit, I love my data).
Maybe it's where I got my masters, or that I happened to have excellent professors who had both their phd and for the most part continued to teach in the school system, but I have a hard time understanding how people end up walking away from their masters without being more effective teachers. I believe it can happen, but does it really happen as often some education policy people argue?

I worry that the "masters degree isn't worth it" argument encourages teachers to not get their masters degree, assuming there is nothing more for them to learn. And no one in life should assume they have already learned all there is to know.

 It also sends a message to everyone that education degrees are simply a waste of time and that you don't need quality training to be a good teacher. This terrifies me the most. I thought I knew a lot about education and how teaching should work before I took any education classes, but both my undergrad classes and my masters classes (and now my doctorate classes) continue to show me better, more effective ways to teach. What I thought I knew before is so far off from the reality of what is good teaching.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

interview questions

A few years ago I wrote about interview questions I'd want to ask if I ever needed to interview at another school. Some were real questions and some were the questions I'd want to ask but would obviously need to be phrased differently...
One was a question about how an administration deals with an angry parent. Do they support the teacher or do they support the parent? How do they mediate the situation?  In my post from 2008 I'd written about a scenario as a joke, but in actual practice it's not so funny. I recently had a friend who teaches at another school get called into the Principal's office only so a parent could yell at her. The principal sat there calmly while the parent just attacked the teacher for various reasons. As the parent ended his rant, stood up and walked out the principal looked at the teacher and shrugged. "Just let it roll off your back, he needed to get that out. Don't worry about it, we know you were in the right."

Having a principal say that you are in the right doesn't really do much to make up for the fact the principal set up a scenario that allowed you to be attacked. Who wants to go to work everyday knowing that at anytime they could be yelled at for doing the right thing?  I personally would lose a lot of trust in my principal if  I was set up in a meeting like that.

Recently the administration at the think-tank passed my interview question with flying colors. An upset parent, a busy time of year, students with spring fever, the final days of state testing- all cumulating together to create the perfect storm, and yet I have never felt more supported by my administration. I was proud to work at the think-tank where administrators take the time to listen to parent concerns along with teacher concerns and mediate the best they can. I walked out of what could have been a meeting that drove me straight out of teaching knowing that I was teaching in a place where the children come first above all else. No administrator decided the quickest and easiest way to get the situation out of the way was to just let the parent yell, or to ignore the parent and let the teachers deal with the situation on our own. Instead our administration took the time to thoughtfully consider where everyone was coming from, but more importantly, kept the needs of the child in mind.

Being an administrator is difficult work, and I frequently hear from teachers at other schools about how their administrators decide to handle problems by not supporting the people in the school who have the most contact and make the most impact with students. Recent media seems to encourage this "get the teachers" philosophy- administrators need to straighten up those bad teachers, get them to shape up and ship out. It's easy after watching movies like Waiting for Superman to jump on the bad teacher bandwagon and immediately assume teachers are in the wrong whenever you hear of a conflict within a school.  It takes a thoughtful, conscientious administrator to take the time to consider all aspects of the situation and act not on what is the easiest solution, but on what is the best solution. From stories I hear there are not many of those administrators out there.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Katie loves the kittens (and Pixie loves Katie)

One of my new favorite books is Katie Loves the Kittens by John Himmelman. When my partner-in-crime first read it she began giggling and handed me the book saying, "This describes Pixie perfectly".  And it does.

Pixie must recognize this on some level because she also LOVES Katie and the kittens. She is dying to have it read and re-read to her and frequently wants to talk about Katie and how Katie can't control herself because the kittens are so cute.

You see, Katie is a dog whose owner Sara Ann just got three little kittens. Katie is SO excited by the kittens she runs around the house howling (scaring the kittens).  She gets sad because she scares the kittens and tries so hard not to, but then after trying and trying to control herself she breaks down and howls again. Your heart goes out to Katie who really, really wants to do the right thing- but it's just so hard. In the end she wakes up with the kittens on top of her, and then has to try her hardest to stay still so the kittens will keep cuddling with her. She succeeds and everyone is a happy cuddling pile of pets.

If you are familiar with a very caring but impulsive five year old I highly recommend that you read the book.  It's a good reminder of how well-meaning our little friends are despite their impulsive actions. 

A think tank focused on creative solutions for future problem solvers -tree